How to choose your destination | First Time Backpacker Series

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So, you’ve decided that you’re ready to take the plunge and go on a backpacking adventure.

But then you’re left wondering where the hell to go: do you go inter railing in Europe or partying in South East Asia? Do you go off the grid in South America or take a tour bus round New Zealand? Or do you do a bit of everything?

And then you start to consider and weigh up all of your worries and fears about travelling for the first time, and suddenly you have no clue of where to go.

The first point that I will make is that you should do your best to not stress out about this. The process should be fun – make the planning a part of the adventure!

Here are some simple and easy steps to help you get the ball rolling:

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1) Write out a list of places that you have always wanted to go

I know this is elementary, but it’s where I started when I first started planning my backpacking adventure, and it was what I kept coming back to when I was plucking up the courage to book my flights. I added to this list when I was tired and miserable at work, when I was sitting on the train, when I was tucked up in bed at the end of the day – it was an outlet for my dreams and wanderlust in an otherwise dull world.

Imagine that you have no budget and no limitations. Forget your fears of solo female travel and no-go areas in foreign cities.

Dig up every place, activity, exotic animal, and tourist destination that you have ever wished to experience in your life. Write everything down – no detail is too small and nothing is too extreme.

2) Get on Pinterest

Gather pictures and ideas, and organise them into location-based inspiration boards.

See which areas fill up the quickest.

Are there any locations in particular that you are drawn to?

Have you been pinning places that you had never even thought of, leading you to a whole new dream?

The images I have been pinning lately are photos of Italy and France, so I’m guessing that’s where my heart is telling me to go!

3) Pay the travel agent a visit

I wouldn’t recommend getting travel advice and booking on the same day, but travel agents can be a great source of advice. Chances are, one of the agents will have travelled to where you are thinking of going, and they’ll have great ideas for possible routes and budgeting.

I recommend STA for cheap flights and backpacking information, though be careful with add-ons such as their money card and insurance policy as they aren’t always the best value for money!

Check out my article “Should I book through a travel agent?” for more tips and tricks.

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4) Flick through some travel magazines and brochures

Even if you’re not planning on doing one of the tours or checking into the luxury accommodation advertised, brochures can give you some good ideas for activities and possible routes – especially if you only have a vague notion of what you want to do and what towns/cities are along the way.

When I was planning my trip to South America, it was initially very overwhelming because it’s such a huge continent. I knew that I wanted to visit Rio in Brazil, the Salt Flats in Bolivia and Machu Picchu in Peru, but I knew very little of the towns and cities in between those destinations. So, I used a number of different travel brochures to work out a good and well-trodden route that I would feel safe doing as a solo female backpacker.

5) Work out an approximate budget and/or leaving date

I ummed and ahhed for ages about going to South Africa on my backpacking adventure. However, in the end, I simply didn’t have the money. I knew my work contract was coming to an end in the Spring of 2013, so that was my deadline for saving, and it was physically impossible for me to earn enough money.

When do you want to go travelling? Is there a specific month or time of year you have to leave at? Will it even be possible to travel your country of choice at that time of year, or will you be hitting their monsoon season?

How much money do you have in your account and how much can you realistically save before your chosen date?

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6) Think of your own limitations

If you are prone to anxiety, and the idea of being somewhere completely alien sounds more terrifying than exciting, then it might well be better to consider somewhere culturally closer to home – especially if you’re travelling alone.

If you’re from the UK, going inter-railing in Europe might initially seem more attractive as you’re physically closer to home, but it could actually be a more difficult and anxiety-inducing experience for you due to cultural and linguistic barriers. I would actually recommend New Zealand or Australia to an incredibly nervous first time backpacker over Europe, as both countries are so easy to travel (transport is basically a simplified version of the UK) and everyone speaks English so you will never be left isolated and unable to communicate.

7) Go to your favourite place first

I initially planned to go to New Zealand before going to South America because I thought it would be good to build up my confidence and get some travel experience in before heading to my most difficult destination.

I suggested this to the travel agent when booking my flights, and the agent asked me, “Which do you want to go to more?”

Without missing a beat, I answered, “South America.”

The agent told me in no uncertain terms that I should head to Brazil first.

You should always prioritise the destination that you want to go to most, regardless of how scary it might seem. If you put it last, you may well end up running out of time and money, and have to miss out on your top bucket list adventures.

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I hope that this quick and easy post helps you get on your way! As always, if you have any questions please leave me a comment below and I will be more than happy to answer : )

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